Huge No-Notice Changes to American AAdvantage Awards You Probably Don’t Ever Book

Without any advance notice, American is increasing the price of “AAnytime awards” for travel effective June 1. This is the price when regular award seats aren’t available.

They are also eliminating their highly valuable, but complicated, distance-based oneworld awards.

US Airways also changes their version of AAnytime awards for travel effective June 1 as well, going to a four-tier redemption chart. (US Airways has had a three-tier award chart for years.) That applies only to the US Airways award chart and not to the partner redemption chart.

There are no changes at this time to American’s saver awards, which is what most of us book and care about.

American’s New AAnytime Awards

I’ve only booked a few AAnytime awards in my life, for instance during a British Airways cabin crew strike when I had a BA first class award I booked a United award as a backup home from London in case my flight was cancelled. It wasn’t, and I refunded the award. It’s a nice option but one I rarely exercise.

And it’s not unexpected. When American introduced their Hong Kong flight, they added a separate zone for the flight and priced their rule-buster style AAnytime awards nearly triple the cost of saver awards.

A year ago I predicted the death of the double miles award (and why the US Airways/American merger will kill it for good). American was the last holdout charging just double miles for last seat award availability offered to all of its members. That’s no longer the case, just as expected. It’s sad, but it’s competitive with other airlines, and indeed in many case their offerings are still cheaper than the competition.

What American has done is implement a three-tier structure for their AAnytime extra availability awards.

The lowest tier is in some cases fewer miles than what we pay now to buy out of capacity controls. The second level is almost always more miles. And the third level doesn’t even specify a price. Level three just says, “*AAnytime Level 3 awards are offered on a few select dates and will require higher number of miles to redeem.

Here’s the new American award chart.

Remember, these are changes just to extra availability awards which apply only to travel on American. Travel on partners is always at the saver level and does not change.

It appears that with these changes there will always be last seat availability at some price. The price may be astronomical but the award will be possible. In contrast, United — at similar high prices — offers last seat availability only to their elite members and co-brand credit card holders. Otherwise MileagePlus has capacity controls even on their rule-buster style awards.

That said, the “*” third tier level is frightening. They won’t commit to a fixed price, and haven’t given us an indication of how it will be calculated. One expects pricing at this level to be rare, and rarely used anyway, but an explanation of what it means would be good.

The Elimination of the Distance-Based Award

I’ve booked the distance-based oneworld explorer award. It provides great value, especially for adding lots of short-distance flights around Europe without spending extra miles and for using extra miles to avoid American’s rather arcane routing rules like not flying via Europe to Asia and not flying via Asia to Australia or via the Middle East to Africa.

But I’ve only booked a few, they’re restrictive in other ways (like having to include only oneworld airlines, and include two of them other than American in the award).

American says they are getting rid of it “since very few AAdvantage members used the awards.” They also explain is as part of aligning policies with US Airways which doesn’t offer such an option, but there’s no reason of course that the alignment couldn’t have simply been to keep this option (with US Airways members getting it when the two frequent flyer programs are combined).

The Elimination of Stopovers

It appears – based on a conversation with an agent, an attempted booking on the website, and reports elsewhere – that stopovers have been eliminated.

American has permitted stopovers at no additional charge only at the North American gateway city. That meant that if you were flying, say, New York – San Francisco – Hong Kong you could have a stopover in San Francisco. If you were flying Tokyo – Dallas – Austin you could have a stopover in Dallas.

That feature appears to have been eliminated, although I’m waiting for official word on this.

Most people won’t notice these changes

I don’t love these changes, but they’re restricted to the sorts of awards I don’t book or that are fairly obscure.

It matters of course if there winds up less saver award availability than there is today, but we don’t have reason to expect that to be the case especially since saver premium cabin transatlantic award availability on American is already so limited.

The worst part is the loss of the hedge, I liked the idea of the double miles award more than actually using it. And the other component here that’s bad from a trust perspective is that these changes are being implemented without notice.

After all of this I’m still happier with American miles than United or Delta miles.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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